Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

10 July 2009

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

10 July 2009
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, all.

**Secretary-General on Myanmar

The Secretary-General will brief the Security Council next Monday, at 10 a.m., on the situation in Myanmar, to discuss his two-day visit there last week.

Once he is done talking to the Security Council, we expect him to go to the stakeout to talk to you.  That could be around 11 a.m. or so. [The Spokesperson later added that the times had changed.  The Secretary-General will brief the Security Council at 11:30 a.m. and go to the stakeout at around 12:30 p.m.]

**Secretary-General at G-8 Summit

The Secretary-General has wrapped up his visit to Italy, and his two-week trip to Asia and Europe, and is on his way back to New York.

Before leaving L’Aquila, he spoke at a discussion on food security convened by the Group of Eight.  The Secretary-General warned that the number of chronically hungry people is now a staggering 1 billion ‑‑ the highest ever.

He outlined four areas for concrete action.  These are:  to combine new initiatives so that their impact can be maximized; to commit to a comprehensive approach that tackles both the immediate and long-term dimensions of the problem; to support national food security strategies, working through regional institutions; and to make sure that countries have the financial support they need for immediate assistance and longer-term actions.

Earlier, the Secretary-General spoke at a working breakfast on the impact of the economic crisis on Africa.  He said that we must continue and step up our aid to Africa.  And he added that Africa, perhaps more than any other region, needs us to seal a deal on climate change in Copenhagen this year.

We have his remarks to those two events available upstairs.

The Secretary-General also met this morning with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, with whom he discussed climate change and food security.

Last night, he met with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.  They talked about the H1N1 pandemic and Somalia, and also touched on the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.


And also on the Group of Eight Summit, UN agencies are welcoming the $20 billion Food Security Initiative announced by the G-8 leaders.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General, Jacques Diouf, said the initiative was an encouraging policy shift in favour of helping the poor and hungry to produce their own food.  Diouf expressed confidence that the G-8 Heads of State and Government would effectively translate that pledge into concrete action.

The President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Kanayo Nwanze, noted that the G-8 leaders had recognized that food security has two dimensions:  food aid for critical situations and sustained investment in agriculture to break the poverty cycle.  Investing in smallholder agriculture is the cornerstone of this new push for development because it is the key to boosting economic growth and reducing poverty, he added.

** Pakistan

On Pakistan, John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, today briefed the press in Islamabad on the last day of his mission to Pakistan. He said that the Government of Pakistan and the humanitarian community have done a commendable job in dealing with a very rapid displacement crisis, but more is required to reach all those in need.

He said that in one of the districts he had visited, Buner, he was informed that more than half of the displaced people had returned.  Holmes said that normal life appeared to be resuming to some extent in Buner, but it is harder to assess the situation in other districts.

Holmes emphasized the need to respect international humanitarian law, and he also urged the donor community to respond generously.

The Pakistani Government announced yesterday the first stage of a four-phase programme to return internally displaced persons (IDPs) to some areas of the districts of Buner and Swat.  The Return Task Force, which has been established in Peshawar and which comprises several UN agencies and aid organizations, is working on a detailed plan which will be shared tomorrow with authorities, says the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that there are a total of 219,155 internally displaced persons living in camps as of 8 July.  This is down from a figure of 260,000 last month, due mainly to spontaneous returns.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) is ramping up its health response to Pakistan’s humanitarian crisis by buying ambulances and millions of courses of additional medicines for use in Pakistan.  It is also building new warehouses.

**Security Council

The Security Council held an open briefing this morning on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with a briefing by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the DRC, Alan Doss.

Doss told the Council members that action being taken to dismantle armed groups operating in the eastern DRC has raised concerns, especially about the humanitarian impact on civilians.  He said a spate of reprisal attacks by fighters from the Forces démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) and the Lords Resistance Army, LRA, had caused new civilian displacements and serious human rights violations by these armed groups.  Violations have also been committed by undisciplined soldiers from the national army, the FARDC.

The UN Mission in the DR Congo, MONUC, has sought to enhance the protection of civilians by deploying more resources and personnel to the affected provinces, Doss said.  He highlighted the mission’s fight against sexual and gender-based violence.

In this regard, MONUC has welcomed this week’s announcement by the Armed Forces of the DRC of a zero-tolerance policy towards the perpetrators of criminal acts or undisciplined behaviour within its ranks.

Doss stressed that “respect for humanitarian law and human rights by the national army would be an important prerequisite for MONUC’s support to current operations”.

Doss also called for more determined action against FDLR leaders in exile, who are operating from abroad and maintaining contacts with commanders on the ground.

Special Representative Alan Doss will be my guest at the noon briefing today.  So he should be here shortly.

** Somalia

On Somalia, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay today spoke out against the grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law that are being committed in Somalia.  Some of the acts that are being carried out might amount to war crimes, she said.

Pillay noted that UN human rights officers have been interviewing the displaced.  And they’ve been told that the Al Shabaab groups fighting to topple the Transitional Federal Government have carried out extrajudicial executions; planted mines and bombs in civilian areas; and used civilians as human shields.  Various forces have also been reported to have used torture; recruited children; and fired mortars indiscriminately into civilian areas.

Pillay expressed concern about Somali women and children bearing the brunt of the violence, as well as the targeting of human rights defenders, aid workers and journalists.  And she urged all parties to the conflict to abide by the provisions of international human rights and humanitarian law.

We have more on that in my office.

**Somalia ‑‑ UNICEF

Also on Somalia, in response to the displacement crisis facing many civilians from Mogadishu, UNICEF is working as a partner to address the needs of the displaced.

They are distributing emergency supplies for over 6,000 households (about 47,000 people) in and around Mogadishu.  The supplies of non-food items include plastic sheets, blankets, jerry cans, soap and mosquito nets.

The majority of the displaced persons have moved to the Afgooye corridor, a stretch of very densely populated displacement settlements, which is already hosting about 400,000 people.

**Côte d’Ivoire

On Côte d’Ivoire, the latest report of the Secretary-General on Côte d’Ivoire is out on the racks.

In it, the Secretary-General urges the Ivorian parties to respect the presidential elections date of 29 November ‑‑ set last May ‑‑ and to ensure that these elections are open, free, fair and transparent.

He adds that he looks forward to the publication, without further delay, of a consensual and realistic timeline for the completion of the remaining tasks leading to the elections.

In moving forward, it is important that the Ivorian parties sustain the progress achieved so far and complete, in a timely manner, the remaining stages of the peace process, says the Secretary-General.  In particular, he stresses the importance of continuing progress on the reunification agenda.

The Secretary-General adds that the holding of these elections will also constitute a benchmark that may provide a basis for devising an exit strategy for the UN Operation in the country, ONUCI.  For now, he recommends that the Mission’s mandate, ONUCI’s mandate, be extended until 31 January 2010.


In Myanmar, the 4 July landslide caused by torrential rains swept away a jade miners’ settlement along the Uru River in the northern Kachin State.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), initial reports indicate between 700 and 800 people were affected, and are currently being accommodated in five informal displacement locations, including monasteries and a school.

UN agencies and non-governmental organizations working around the affected town are taking stock of their individual stockpiles in order to plan and coordinate distributions and support.

Food is expected to be the main priority currently for the affected population.  The World Food Programme (WFP) has been in contact with the local authorities and will be distributing emergency food aid through one of its existing cooperating partners.


On Georgia, military observers and police of what was formerly the UN Observer Mission in Georgia will leave Abkhazia at the end of next week.

The move is part of the Mission’s liquidation phase which follows the lack of agreement of the Security Council to renew the Mission’s mandate, which led to the Mission effectively ceasing its functions in mid-June.

The Director of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ Europe and Latin America Division, David Harland, met with Abkhaz officials yesterday on the closure.  He noted that the Mission had had very constructive relations both with the local authorities and the public.

Speaking to the press afterwards, Harland echoed recent comments by the Secretary-General in hoping that the United Nations would have an opportunity to keep offering assistance and support for the population through different humanitarian programmes.

** Gaza

On Gaza, contractors working for the UN have begun clearing rubble in Gaza, which was left over from Israeli military operations earlier this year.

According to the UN Development Programme (UNDP), removing the 420,000 tons of rubble is an important start in helping Gazans get over the recent destruction.  Also, the project, which will last one year, will help provide much-needed work and improve the environment before rebuilding can start.

But UNDP stresses that real recovery work in Gaza depends on Israel relaxing its sanctions.

We have more on that in my office.


Tomorrow is World Population Day.  This year’s theme is “Investing in women and girls”.

In a message to mark this occasion, the Secretary-General says that investing in women and girls is one of the most effective ways to continue progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

He calls on decision makers to protect women’s ability to earn income, keep their daughters in school, and obtain reproductive health information and services, including voluntary family planning.  Together, he adds, let us advance the rights of women and girls, and empower them as highly productive members of society capable of contributing to economic recovery and growth.

We have his full message upstairs.

**Capital Master Plan

In the course of the implementation of the Capital Master Plan, the first large group of UN staff will move out of their offices in the UN Headquarters compound this weekend.

Two hundred fifty staff members will relocate to the Albano Building on 305 East 46th Street, which has been leased by the UN.  The building will eventually provide swing space for approximately 700 staff.

Every weekend until the end of October, up to 400 staff will move out of their current offices.  They will relocate to leased swing space mostly in east midtown Manhattan, existing annex buildings like DC1 and DC2, and into temporary offices on the Headquarters compound.  At Headquarters, staff will find accommodation in the Library building, the basements and the temporary North Lawn building.

Altogether, more than 6,000 staff will be affected by this largest relocation exercise the Organization has ever undertaken.

It is expected that staff will begin to move back into the renovated Secretariat Building during the second half of 2012.

**Press Conference Today

And later today, just for planning purposes, at 3:30 p.m., there will be a press conference by General Assembly President Miguel d´Escoto Brockmann.  He will be here to brief on the outcome of the UN Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Development, as well as on the current crisis in Honduras.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

And we have upstairs The Week Ahead.

What I can flag for you:  on Wednesday, the Secretary-General will attend the Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

On Thursday, the Security Council will hear a briefing by Stephen Rapp, Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) and Justice Renate Winter, President of Court.  The briefing will focus on the trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, the trial of the former leaders of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), residual issues and funding for the Court.

And next Friday, the guest at the noon briefing, Stephen Rapp, Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, will brief the press following his meeting with the Security Council.

And this is all I have for you today.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, last Sunday 156 Turkic Uighur people were killed and several hundred were injured in the Xinjiang region of China.  The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, named it as a major tragedy.  The Secretary-General, a day later in Geneva, at a press conference answered a question about the situation, this event in Western China, and he talked about the basic principles of freedom and democracy and everything else, but nothing to do with the tragedy in Western China, and he did not again mention the violence that happened over there.  The situation is still very tense in that region.  Chinese authorities promised, but they have not ceased, arresting any perpetrators yet.  Does the Secretary-General, has the Secretary-General ever been involved to talk to Chinese authorities about this issue?

Spokesperson:  Well, he has been very concerned about it…

Question:  Does he think that this issue deserves to be taken to the United Nations?

Spokesperson:  Well, this issue is already, as you know Commissioner Pillay talked about it, so it is already being examined by the Office of the High Commissioner.  The Secretary-General, as you mentioned yourself, did mention the situation when he was speaking to the press in Geneva.  We have nothing to add to that.

Question:  Naming the Xinjiang [inaudible] without naming it.  Just to generally talk about freedom and democracy and everything… not even mentioning…

Spokesperson:  We really have nothing to add on this.

Question:  Has he contacted the Chinese authorities?

Spokesperson:  He has been speaking consistently with the Chinese authorities.  I don’t know about this specific issue, and I’ll try to find out whether there have been any specific phone calls on that issue.

Question:  Would he consider taking this matter to the United Nations?

Spokesperson:  When you say the United Nations, you mean the Security Council?

Question:  Security Council, yes.

Spokesperson:  Well, not that I know of.

Question:  Michèle, last week ‑‑ it was all buried in the American Independence Day observations ‑‑ Israeli authorities arrested former US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and some human rights activists on the high seas who were taken near Gaza, who were taking these relief supplies for the Gazans.  And then they were incarcerated for the longest period of time, for three or four days, what have you.  Was that issue ever brought to the notice of the Secretary-General, was it raised with the Israeli authorities ever?

Spokesperson:  Well, he was certainly informed of the situation, but he has nothing, no comment to make at this point on it.

Question:  And the Israelis, did they explain why did they arrest these people?  They were only carrying relief goods, and they were on the high seas.

Spokesperson:  Well, this is something you should ask Israeli authorities.  You should ask the Israeli Mission.

Question:  The Israeli Mission, but the United Nations is not taking that issue up at all?

Spokesperson:  No, we have not.  We have been following it, but not taking it up further.

Question:  In Zimbabwe today, scheduled talks between [Robert] Mugabe’s party and the Movement for Democratic Change on a new constitution were postponed, and there is concern that this is an effort by Mugabe to avoid an agreement and possible elections in which he might not be allowed to compete.  Does the Secretary-General have any concerns about this delay and lack of progress in moving towards a new constitution?

Spokesperson:  No, we don’t.  At this point we’re following the situation.  We are certainly aware of that development that you mentioned, and the Secretary-General is, as you know, has encouraged democratic progress to be made in Zimbabwe.  And this is a matter for the Zimbabwean parties, who are now in one Government, to discuss these matters.  It is not for us to have an opinion at this point.

Question:  Myanmar and then Western Sahara.  In Myanmar, the NLD [National League for Democracy] has let it be known that during the Secretary-General’s visit they were given, at least initially, two minutes to present their presentation.  That’s the statement they have put out.  And they seemed to be saying that they were surprised that the Secretary-General didn’t seem to know of their concerns about the constitution in the election. Is it true that the opposition groups were given two minutes?  Is that accurate or not accurate?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know exactly how many minutes they were given.  I do know that the Secretary-General is certainly concerned about their own concerns and the issues of the constitution; the issues of elections is something that the Secretary-General brought up openly, and I’ll refer you to the speech he made in front the diplomatic corps, the NGOs and other leaders before he left Myanmar.  So I think that statement says clearly what his opinion is on the issue.

Question:  Okay, now the [National League for Democracy] is saying the constitution needs to be re-done, and that they don’t want to participate in the election under the current constitution.  I didn’t see it in the speech, or address that per se, but it said free and fair, so does it mean the constitution should be re-done?

Spokesperson:  Well, yes.  It’s a matter for the people in Myanmar.

Question:  And just also on Myanmar, that issue that the former armed groups have been quoted saying they were told by the Government what they could tell the Secretary-General.  Is he aware of that?  Is he concerned that that part of the trip [interrupted]…?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is aware of a lot of things, believe me.

Question:  Sure.  No, no, but I’m saying was he [interrupted]…

Spokesperson:  So, whether he’s aware of that, whether he could do anything about it, no, there is nothing he could do about it, you know.  He asked to meet with those groups and he met with them.  That’s all we can say on our side.

Question:  There is a letter by the Polisario Front, admittedly addressed to the Security Council, about what they call illegal oil exploration contracts by Morocco on their territory.  I asked Mr. [Christopher] Ross, and now I guess I’ll ask you, which is, the Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) or anyone in the Secretariat, do they look at these letters that make claims under international law of what should and should not be done in Western Sahara?  I know the letter is to the Council…

Spokesperson:  Well, if the letter is to the Council, the Council will ask OLA if they need some legal advice.  We do not automatically do this type of analysis; it has to be on the request of the Security Council.

Question:  Because Patricia O’Brien’s predecessor, Hans Corell, has said various things about the exploration, the exploitation of natural resources there.  Not really, I guess since he retired, he can say that.

Spokesperson:  Well, yes, sure.

Question:  Is there a chance to get Ms. O’Brien on this and certain other issues?  It’s been some time.  I think she’s done one press conference.  I guess it’s a request to you to say that on legal matters, it may be a good idea…

Spokesperson:  Yes, sure, sure.  But in this specific case, she would have to be requested by the Security Council; they’re the one who received the letter.

Question:  Thanks.

Spokesperson:  Yes, thank you all so much.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.